Monday’s Essentials

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Game of the Night - Miami at Boston (-6.5, 212), 7:35 ET, NBA TV

With the West’s top eight already decided, the Eastern Conference is the only show in town if you’re looking to watch how desperate teams facing must-win games in order to extend their season perform. Monday’s nine-game schedule features the Trail Blazers and Jazz favored to pick up wins to strengthen their bid for the No. 4 seed that looks to be up for grabs, but the truly compelling games all feature East teams that begin the month with plenty left to accomplish.

The Celtics beat the Pacers on a Kyrie Irving game-winner late last week and have the inside track on the East’s No. 4 seed as they try and pick up homecourt advantage for their likely playoff matchup. Indiana has lost seven of eight but still hosts Boston on Friday night with an opportunity to open the postseason at Bankers Life Fieldhouse and begins an important home-and-home against Detroit you can read about below.

Prior to visiting Indianapolis, the Celtics have their own home-and-home set to get through against Miami, which enters the week looking to catch Orlando or Brooklyn in order to extend Dwyane Wade’s retirement tour into the postseason. Ideally, the playoffs in where his career should end, but it could be that the basketball gods have no desire to see him go out in a first round. As things stand, the Heat control its destiny, coming in a half-game ahead of the Magic despite losing at home to them last week. Considering they have the tougher schedule and Orlando holds the tie-breaker, the Heat’s grip on No. 8 is indeed tenuous, but they have won six of eight and figure to go down swinging.

The Heat won in New York on Sunday night despite leaving Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson and Rodney McGruder behind due to injuries. It remains to be seen if they’ll be available fort the rematch on Wednesday in South Florida, but with Derrick Jones, Jr. dealing with a personal matter and questionable to play, James Johnson, Dion Waiters and Wade will see extended time on the wing and Miami will be far more vulnerable defensively than they have been for most of their current run.

Hassan Whiteside provided the spark in Saturday’s 100-92 win at the Knicks, providing 17 points and 13 rebounds off the bench while Waiters delivered 28 points and six assists. Wade had 16 points and has consistently made plays late in games to the point that it’s clear he’s leaving with plenty left in the tank, so you can count on him leaving it all out there and playing a defining role in determining what he’ll be preparing to do once the next 10 days are up.

It doesn’t sound like the Celtics have any injury concerns ahead of this one, so the Heat could get a team that will be looking to turn up their intensity level now that we’ve reached April with everyone still healthy. Al Horford has been dealing with knee soreness but is expected to start in the middle. Kyrie Irving has skipped games here and there over the past few months but looks to be fresh. His game-winning layup against Indiana was the type of shot that wins championships, capping a 30-point night. He got exactly where he wanted with a confidence and certainty that only the truly elite can manage, delivering the winning bucket with 0.5 left.

Irving then got the night off on Saturday as the short-handed Celtics fell in Brooklyn without their All-Star point guard and Horford, getting outscored by 18 over the final three quarters. Jayson Tatum did play despite dealing with an illness over the weekend, so we’ll see where his energy level is for this one, but Boston has been better early in games of late and should look to get out in transition to keep the Heat from setting its halfcourt defense, which could lead to a high-scoring opening quarter. If Jones sits, Miami will be without its most dynamic athlete and will certainly be vulnerable to the edge in depth the Celtics would have on the wing given the absence of Winslow, Richardson and McGruder.

Each team has won at home through the first two meetings in the season series, but the Heat actually have been better in opposing arenas than in their own gym, coming in with the Eastern Conference’s third-best road record. Wade isn’t likely to get the warm reception he got at Madison Square Garden from Boston fans tonight considering he’s always been a villain a TD Garden, but he should be heavily involved in determining the outcome given Miami’s personnel issues. The future Hall of Famer has averaged 19.7 points against the Celtics over his career.

The ‘over’ has prevailed in eight of the last 11 games involving Boston, but the ‘under’ is 4-1 over Miami’s last five. The number (212) is identical to where it was placed for the first two meetings which split.

Best of the Rest

Detroit at Indiana, 7:05 p.m. ET: Blake Griffin was scratched on Saturday night prior to the Pistons tipping off against the Blazers, complaining of knee soreness after suiting up for warm-ups. His absence took everyone by surprise and will carry over another game since he’s already been ruled out for this one. Andre Drummond finished with 22 points and 19 rebounds to help take down Portland for Detroit’s 11th consecutive home win, but it’s been a different story on the road, where it has lost six of seven, failing to top the century mark in three of the losses. We’ll see if scoring is an issue against the defensive-minded Pacers, who won the first meeting of the season between these teams at Bankers Life Fieldhouse 125-88 back on Dec. 28. Indiana has lost seven of eight but should prioritize ramping up its intensity level on defense after being carved up for 65 second-half points by Orlando in a bad home loss on Saturday. Bojan Bogdanovic is averaging 21.8 points over the Pacers’ last 10 games, sporting a 28.0-points-per-game clip over his last four.

Milwaukee at Brooklyn, 7:35 p.m. ET: Khris Middleton wasn’t expected to sit on Sunday, but felt pain in warmups and opted not to play against the Hawks. That had a domino effect with Eric Bledsoe getting the day off, so we’ll see if they play here. The team is rightfully being cautious with Giannis Antetokounmpo’s ankle and have a three-game lead on Toronto for the East’s top seed with five to play, so they can afford to give key guys time off. The Nets benefited from Irving and Horford sitting out Saturday night and could again catch a break if the Bucks aren’t at full strength here since they’re looking to hold off both Florida teams to finish among the conference’s top eight. Middleton and Tony Snell could return here for Milwaukee or might be given some additional time to heal up since the team doesn’t play again until Thursday, so be sure to check on the status of these guys closer to tip. Allen Crabbe remains out with a knee issue for Brooklyn, which is 0-2 against the Bucks this season.

Orlando at Toronto, 7:35 p.m. ET: This could be the Magic's toughest remaining game given their remaining schedule, which features only one other playoff team, so if they can secure an upset, you really have to like their chances of ending a lengthy playoff drought. Saturday's win in Indy was impressive and featured everyone collectively playing really well on both sides of the ball, which is a big deal for this group since they've been so streaky on the offensive end. The Raptors fell 113-98 last time these teams played on Feb. 24 as Terrence Ross haunted his former team with 28 points. Orlando has won two of three over the Raps and seven of eight overall, coming off a season-best 37 assists against the Pacers. Toronto should have starting forwards Kawhi Leonard and Pascal Siakam back after both rested on Saturday, so we could be in for a true early preview of a potential playoff series with both teams playing to win this one since this could very well end up the 2-7 matchup in the East. The 'over' is on an 8-3-1 run in games involving Toronto.

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